Our cultures were a divide in our relationship. Here's how we married them.

This story first appeared on The Mash-Up Americans.

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I dated my husband for almost seven years before our wedding. We've now been married for two. He’s Jewish; I’m Hindu.

It wasn’t until five months into our marriage that the divide between our cultural backgrounds and religions become apparent.

It began with brisket.

The evening started benignly enough — we were trying to decide if we were going to host his family for Passover that year, our first as a married couple. In the midst of planning, our conversation escalated when I pointed out I knew more about his culture and religion than he did. It ended in a huff when I was able to explain how to make a perfect brisket, but he couldn’t tell me what sambar, a lentil-based South Indian vegetable dish, was.

The real issue wasn’t about food, obviously.‌

Seth and me. Image via Hitha Herzog, used with permission. ‌

When I first met Seth, I knew how important Jewish culture was to him, even though he wasn’t religious. I made it a point to learn about Judaism.

I studied the diaspora of his relatives from Hungary and Russia to Princeton, New Jersey, via the Lower East Side and the Bronx. I researched Jewish history and visited museums. I learned how to make a perfect potato pancake and read up on what each of the eight Hanukkah blessings meant. I happily called myself a Hind-Jew. Because in my mind, that’s what I was becoming — a balanced, super in-tune mix of my culture and his.

Despite having had a four-day wedding that included separate Hindu and Jewish ceremonies, though, my husband had no idea who he was (culturally) marrying.

Sure, he was schooled on the several ritualistic steps of our Hindu wedding ceremony. He was present for the house-blessing puja we hosted when we bought our first apartment on the Upper West Side.

But he still didn’t understand why I kept vegetarian on Saturdays (a day devoted to Lord Venkateswara, an incarnation of Vishnu, something I have done since birth) or why it was imperative that we always take our shoes off in the house. His understanding of what it meant to be a Hindu Indian was straight from a Mindy Kaling script, peppered with “tiger mom” quips.

Food was a whole other issue.

Seth wasn’t used to eating spicy food, so instead of having my weekly thali complete with idli, potato masala, and a dosa, a South Indian breakfast array that I had turned into a dinner tradition, I swapped it out for a weekly trip to our favorite Chinese joint. Secretly, I was afraid I was becoming more “Jew” in the delicate Hind-Jew equation I created for myself, and it scared me.

‌Passover. Seth as Moses, and me as I prepare the perfect brisket. Image via Hitha Herzog, used with permission.‌

We were a few weeks out from our wedding when Seth and I started talking about our future kids.

“We are going to raise them Jewish,” he said with finality.

“OK...” I said, giving him the side-eye, slightly bewildered.

Turns out discussing brisket is great for surfacing a hidden identity crisis.

I was right to be nervous. Though he’d always said he didn’t want me to convert to Judaism, once we were engaged and talking about our future kids, he’d had a change of heart.

He wanted our kids to be raised Jewish, and in order for our kids to be Jewish, I had to be as well.

And just like that, another weight had been added to the “Jew” side of the Hind-Jew scale. But I loved this guy. I tucked away my anxiety, and suddenly, five months later, we were married and facing our first Passover.

“How would you like it if I made an executive decision to raise our kids Hindu?” I shouted. “I thought our kids were going to be raised knowing both religions. And now you are saying they can only be one?”

“It’s important to me for the kids to be raised in the Jewish faith.”

Seth took a step back and sat down at our enormous kitchen table, a place I had envisioned our kids studying for Hebrew school and reciting lines from the Mahabharata.

“Where is this coming from? We were just talking about brisket!” He genuinely looked perplexed.

“You said you wanted me to convert so our kids could grow up Jewish!” I shrieked. I was getting upset but for reasons only I could understand. It wasn’t even the conversion part that upset me. I had spent so much time learning about his culture and religion in our relationship that I was 75% there. I was upset because I felt like I was losing myself. I had already changed my name to Herzog when we got married. Now I had to give up a large part of my identity? No way.

Seth paused for a moment before he spoke. “It’s important to me for the kids to be raised in the Jewish faith.”

Our conversation wasn’t going anywhere, so I dropped it for the moment.

We hosted Passover. It was a week before a trip to India to visit my extended family. During the dinner, Seth talked about his excitement and fear swirling around the trip, since it was his first time there.

“I’m sure I’m going to get diarrhea,” he said with a smirk. “But at least I will lose some weight!”

Our guests doubled over in laughter. My heart sank as I passed around the matzoh ball soup, which I had made from scratch. I didn’t want to ruin the fun everyone was having by dismissing such a backward notion of India, but I was heartbroken. The Hind-Jew scale had practically fallen over. I cried myself to sleep that night.

Something happened during our week abroad. The minute we touched down in Hyderabad, all the preconceived ideas Seth had about India vanished. He was enthralled and eager to learn.

I took him to all the ancient sites in town, and he stood and said nothing; instead, he let the sensory overload of noisy auto rickshaws, street anarchy, and the smell of petrol and street food take over. He met my extended family. They embraced him like a son. They overfed him South Indian delicacies of biriyani, a savory chicken and rice dish native to Hyderabad; tamarind and yellow rice; pesarattu, a mung bean pancake; and upma, a savory porridge made from rice flour.

My heart burst when he asked for seconds. It shattered in a billion pieces when he went in for thirds.

‌Seth with Sarah, one of seven Jews left in Cochin, Kerala. Image via Hitha Herzog, used with permission.‌

One night, my family pulled together a “small” Hindu reception of 100 people in the courtyard of our family’s apartment building. They wanted to welcome Seth and celebrate our wedding and give blessings. Seth was so touched by the gesture, he cried.

Later in the week, we ventured to Cochin, in Kerala, where we hung out on a houseboat for three days as the second part of our honeymoon. Seth got to see how diverse the religious landscape of India really is when we visited a Syrian Christian church that had been in town since the 1300s.

“This place is awesome,” he said. Day five into the trip, he still wasn’t sick and continued to take second helpings of the food.

Our last day in Cochin was a significant turning point in our Hind-Jew negotiations. Seth and I visited a section of the city called “Jew Town.” Historically, this was where most of the spice trade happened in the city. It was an ancient section, beautifully preserved with a 500-year-old synagogue at the end of the street. While walking back to our car, we stumbled upon a shop that sold handmade bread coverings for Shabbat. The coverings were made by a 92-year-old Jewish woman named Sarah Cohen, whose family had settled in Cochin nearly 400 years ago. She was one of seven Jews left in Cochin.

Seth and I spoke with her about her family, her faith, and what it meant to be an Indian Jewish woman. She showed us pictures of her family from the 1800s and of herself from 1940. When Seth and I left, she started to cry and said, “Please come visit me again soon, my days are numbered!” Something changed in both of us that day.

On our way back to the States, we talked about Cochin and my family.

Seth, unprompted, said: “I want our kids to be raised Jewish, but it’s important to me for them to know their Hindu roots. And they can ultimately decide what they want to do.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Could our travels have changed his perspective on our future family? He didn’t elaborate, but when we stepped off the flight I knew he was a changed person. I was, too. I no longer felt the pressure to convert, or the weight of my hidden anxiety over the Hind-Jew scale. Even if I do convert, I know that I won’t be losing myself; converting will be a chance to access another faith while still holding on to my traditions.

At least I know that Seth was changed in one dramatic way. Instead of an “Indian” diet, he had to go on a diet when we got back to the U.S. after gaining 10 pounds from eating so much incredible South Indian food — the same food that he now asks me to make alongside the brisket.

‌Our wedding. Image via Hitha Herzog, used with permission.‌

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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